I think it would have to be to see God in everyone and honor them accordingly. If we could see our fellow human beings as actual people, and not problems or ‘the other’, and see that we are all truly part of the same spirit, we might take a little more care, we might be a little kinder, we might actually shake ourselves out of this idea of scarcity which seems to say, “I’ve got mine, you’re on your own”.
As a part of our series about Inspirational Women In Hollywood, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Sara Gaston.
Sara Gaston has been acting over 30 years. She has appeared in many independent films including “Lars the Emo Kid”, “Acid Test”, “Conjoined” and “The Lioness Club”. Several of the films she has appeared in have won awards at various film festivals, including most recently “Joe Returns a Video”. She has worked in almost all areas of the business including commercials, industrial, film, television, improv, sketch comedy, animation, stage, and voice-over.
She has appeared on many stages throughout Houston including, The Hobby Center, The Alley, Main Street Theater, Stages, and Mildred’s Umbrella. She took her sold-out, one-woman show “Red Hot Patriot — The Kick-A** Wit of Molly Ivins” to California, courtesy of Main Street Theater & California State University. She received a B.A. in Drama from the University of Texas at Austin. She has continued her studies with The Groundlings, Jeff Perry (Steppenwolf Theater), Second City, The Margie Haber Studio, Leslie Kahn, Kim Rubenstein, and Guy Roberts (Artistic Director of the Prague Shakespeare Festival).
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Absolutely! I was born in Lakewood, Colorado but my family moved to Houston, Texas when I was 2 months old. I was what is now affectionately referred to as a ‘free range child’. Basically, I was on my own to explore, play pretend, make mud pies and catch bugs. During the summer specifically, kids were sent outside to raise havoc and I was told only, “Stay where you can hear me call”. And my mom could yell when she wanted to. 😊
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
Growing up, I had no idea I would become an actor. The first dream I ever had was to be an anthropologist like Dr. Louis Leakey. Then, an Olympic gymnast. It wasn’t until my friend Shannon said she was going to sign up for “Fine Arts” as her freshman elective that I entered the world of theater. I did my first monologue, “The Village Atheist” from “Spoon River Anthology”. I memorized it word perfect, looked up words I didn’t recognize, made a costume, brought a prop (a broom which I cast dramatically to the ground) and blocked it so I hopped up on a bench. When I was done, my drama teacher yelled, “Outstanding!” After that, I was hooked. Looking back, I was always a performer. I was chosen for school plays and church pageants because I was a good and confident reader. And we’d perform plays and talent shows in the garage and backyard and all the neighbors would come. Oh, and doing orange juice commercials in front of the mirror with orange watercolor paint and water in a juice glass. But I was always playing pretend anyway (this was pre-internet and 300 television channels) so playing didn’t occur to me as an actual career choice.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Well, interesting and disturbing. I was in an indie film called, “In a Mad Man’s World” about Dean Corll, a serial killer from Houston. The writer/director had been to prison to interview Elmer Wayne Henley, one of the accomplices, and Elmer’s mother, who I play in the film. He was able to get clothing, furniture, household items and letters from Dean’s mother (which I still have) to make things as authentic as possible. One of the items that turned up in his search was a polaroid of a victim that the police hadn’t known about. The whole thing is just so tragic. It was a privilege and also heart-breaking to tell this story. Sadly, the film has never been released.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Wow, there are just so many (laughs). Where to start? After I graduated from college, I had this fantastic theatrical training but had no idea how to audition for film. So, I’m sure I terrified many casting directors with my ‘over acting’. However, this one time, I auditioned for a commercial where I played a woman whose husband and child were killed in a car crash. The casting director told me that there wouldn’t be dialogue, just voice over while the scene was played. So, I basically put myself in state and had this hysterical breakdown imagining this horrific news, but I did it completely silently! I didn’t understand that I could make all the noise I wanted to, that it would be taken out and the VO track laid on top. I guess I did a good job, though, because I booked the role.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I would have to say my high school theatre director, Ken Dyess. He pushed us really hard and had expectations of professionalism which I carry this day. He had a great love and respect for the craft which he passed on to all of us. Our theatre ‘clan’ has had 2 reunions in the past 10 years. The bond we share is still really strong. I spent a great part of my formative years learning how to create beauty and meaning with the help of a team. It gave me an outlet for all my creative energy and kept me (mostly) out of trouble.
You have been blessed with great success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?
Well, failure is part of the process. You only fail if you don’t learn. Also, this is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t head this way unless you really really love it because it is not a meritorious career choice. You can be talented and hard working and never see the type of recognition that most young actors dream of. But if you really love it more than anything else, you won’t be happy unless you are part of it in some way.
What drives you to get up everyday and work in TV and Film? What change do you want to see in the industry going forward?
I feel that it is truly a noble calling to be a storyteller. People have been sitting around campfires for thousands of years to share knowledge and experience. My mission statement as an artist is to tell the truth of what it is to be human in such a way that someone watching will feel they are not alone. Unfortunately, the opportunities for women and people of color are much fewer than their white, male counterparts. I’d like to see more stories reflect women who are complicated and dynamic. I’d like to see more stories that reflect the friendships and relationships I see. I don’t sit around all day with friends and colleagues who are exactly my age and demographic. I have older friends, younger friends, LBGQ friends, friends of different races and religious beliefs. What we have in common transcends ‘check this box’.
You have such impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Where do you see yourself heading from here?
Of course, the pandemic has put a bit of a damper on the industry for all of us so I’m looking at what I can create in the current environment. I had the privilege and joy of participating in a socially distanced film, “The Central Authority” with actors from all over the world. Also, there is interest in reprising my role as Molly Ivins in “Red Hot Patriot”. This is a one-woman show that I’ve performed in 2 hugely successful runs in Texas and then took to California for a brief run. We are working with AEA to make sure we can do it safely, and then stream it. The alternative we’re also considering is to put together the footage from my last run. I hope we can make it happen. We sure could use her wisdom right about now.
We are very interested in looking at diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture and our youth growing up today?
I mentioned one already — that television and film often don’t represent the reality I live. Second, we live in a diverse world and there’s so much to learn from each other’s story. I already know the stories about people like me. Lastly, we look to role models to let us know what is possible for us. For example, my mom was a stay-at-home mom. I never saw a role model of what a working mom could be. So I thought you had to choose between being a great mom or giving up your dreams and staying home to raise kids. I didn’t see red-haired, freckled women in magazines growing up so I thought that wasn’t desirable. I was wondering the other day about what it must be like for a child of color to grow up knowing Santa as a white male. So we don’t even realize how we’re being told what is good or desirable or out there for us. Entertainment has the opportunity to say, “we see you — there’s something here for you too.”
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- There’s a place for you, even if you don’t look like the current flavor of the month. I might have taken more risks early on to put myself out there.
- This is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s okay to take your time building your craft, your relationships and learning the business. I have often been so hard on myself because it’s not looking the way it’s supposed to, even though that’s an illusion. There’s no ‘right way’.
- It’s okay to have a job and do this too. Financial security (or lack of it) has such a powerful effect on the psyche. There’s nothing glamorous about the ‘starving artist’.
- Find a mentor — they will save you years. And you might have to pay them either financially or through sweat equity but what you learn will be invaluable.
- Have a life — there’s more to life than being an entertainer. And if you have nothing else that interest you, you will not be interesting and will have nothing to bring to your work.
Can you share with our readers any self care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Please share a story for each one if you can.
I try to maintain a healthy diet and work out most days. Right now I’m doing yoga, a stationary bike with the Peloton app, Kinrgy with Julianna Hough and I just got a rebounder so I bounce around on that several times a day. Because I’m so fair I’m vigilant about sunscreen. I drink a ton of water. I practice gratitude. I write down at least 3 things I’m grateful for each night. And I never stop reading, never stop learning, never stop taking classes, on a variety of subjects. I want always to have an agile mind.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There are two that stay with me and that have similar meanings. One is “Don’t die with your music still in you.” The second is this:
This is the true joy in life-that being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one. That being a force of nature, instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used by when I die. For the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It’s a sort of splendid torch which I’ve got to hold up for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.
- George Bernard Shaw
You are a person of huge influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Wow, such a huge question. Such a great question. I think it would have to be to see God in everyone and honor them accordingly. If we could see our fellow human beings as actual people, and not problems or ‘the other’, and see that we are all truly part of the same spirit, we might take a little more care, we might be a little kinder, we might actually shake ourselves out of this idea of scarcity which seems to say, “I’ve got mine, you’re on your own”.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
Meryl Streep. She’s been my idol since I saw 15 years old and saw her in “Sophie’s Choice”. She’s a brilliant actress but she also seems to have the wisdom to have a life and a purpose other than booking that next role. Also Thomas Jefferson. But he might be hard to book.
Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online? Absolutely!
This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success! Thank you. This has been amazing. 😊